Believers today need to contend for the facts. Time after time, Jews for Jesus is confronted by non-believers (often rabbis on radio or television talk shows) who would impugn our character. That is a signal to us that the person does not want to grapple with the issues. Instead, by discrediting us as the messengers, he hopes to cast doubt over the credibility of our message.
When that happens, our response is always the same. We say, Rabbi, you are avoiding the issue. The issue is whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. If he rose from the dead, everyone ought to believe in him, and if he did not, no one ought to believe in him.”
My old college professor would say it was more complicated than that. After I had already finished my ministerial training I wanted to fill in some educational gaps, so I signed up for History of Western Civilization at Los Angeles City College. The professor began with the Greeks. He sang the praises of Homer, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle as though they were old friends. He even seemed to know the reasons for some of what they said and did.
Then he moved away from the ancient Greeks to discuss the influence of Christianity. When he talked about Jesus’ life and teachings, he almost always qualified his remarks with “if he ever lived,” or “is supposed to have said.”
Never very shy with my teachers, I stood up, looked him in the eye and said, “What do you mean, ‘is supposed to have said,’ or ‘if he ever lived’? Either he did or he didn’t.” The professor answered, “It’s not as simple as all of that.”
I continued my confrontation with, “What do you mean, ‘It’s not as simple as all of that’? Explain yourself.” He dismissed my question, saying it was not of interest to the entire class, so we would move on. Several others did indicate an interest, but he insisted on changing the subject. He had conveniently resorted to a cop-out at least ten years before the term was even invented.
By any name, that professor’s approach to religion is a fairly common sophistry. When people do not care to grapple with a certain truth—or for reasons of their own prefer not to believe it instead of denying it outright, they declare it too complicated to understand.
Faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not complicated. It is simple, except to those who do not want to believe it and are looking for a way to complicate matters. Such deniers of faith, lacking the courage to declare a miracle untrue, might prefer to say, “It ain’t necessarily so.” Out-and-out infidels would have the courage to say, “It is not so.”
Our current society has little passion. People neither love nor hate very much. They merely avoid. It is easy to avoid the issue of whether or not Christ rose from the dead by saying, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”
Truth is not like that. Truth is consistent, coherent and conforms to historical definition. If, in the light of historical accounts, the resurrection of Jesus cannot be ascertained to be true, then nothing is true and truth will never be discovered.
The first test of the truth of the Resurrection is its correspondence to the facts of history as we know them. It would be virtually impossible to account for the martyrdom of the Apostles and the rapid growth of the church in the first century if there had not been so many witnesses of the Resurrection and of the miracles done by Jesus.
The second test of its truth is its coherence. If we begin by believing that the Old Testament (Tenach) is true, then its prophecies must also be true. The Resurrection seems to fit in with those prophecies of a deliverer who would die for our sins, yet reign as king over the whole world.
The third test of its truth is its pragmatism. It is not a wisecrack when someone says, “I know that Jesus is alive because I talked to him just this morning.” Someone is listening when we talk to Jesus. Someone answers by the events of history—God answers prayer in Jesus’ name.
We use deductive logic, inductive logic and a spiritual sense of Scripture along with the subjective story of millions of individuals—to say that the Resurrection is fact. It is just as simple as we state it.
We must guard ourselves against those who want to deny the truth by confounding and confusing us and making us look to matters that are irrelevant. Either Christ has risen from the dead or he has not. If he has, then we all need to believe, and we all need to follow him. To follow him means to become involved in his passion and death at Calvary, that we may share in the present benefit and future glory his resurrection brings us.
That bright and beautiful dawning almost 2000 years ago brought hope for all humanity. Now, as believers in that simple yet profound truth, we can stand bravely at the grave of any believer, and through tears of sorrow declare, “Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?” Jesus is risen! And because he lives, we too shall live!